The Joy of Sextet – Bethany Hensel

Friday night was a night of six. But before I get to that, I must ask, Are there some instruments that are just more “attractive” than others? Instruments that just speak to you more than others? Now, I firmly believe the violin is the most sensuous of all the instruments.  The shape itself is a sensual one.  The curves, the dips, the valleys.  Feminine and beguiling, it's no wonder that some people consider it the "devil's instrument".  It's an instrument made for seduction.  

The flute, while lacking sexiness and sultriness, is an attractive, coquettish instrument.  (Or, to put it in US Weekly speak, the violin is the Angelina Jolie of instruments while the flute is the Jennifer Aniston.) There's something utterly charming about the flute.  It reminds me of fawns and meadows and spring time. 

The trumpet is all about dignity.  I don't know about you, but when I hear the trumpet, I think of Taps.  I think of military.  I think of America and the flag.  And I like that.   

The piano, just for the sheer fact of how fast and deft and coordinated a person must be to play the instrument, in and of itself is sexy.  All girls love fast fingers.  

As for the oboe, I know that it's not the first instrument that might come to mind when talking about sexy instruments, but it certainly speaks to me. It says, serpents and magic and hot streets and bold colors? Don't you think of places like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and Morocco?  I do. So, the oboe holds a very special place in my heart.  

Lastly, and most surprisingly – especially to me, considering I never considered this instrument very sexy before or all that communicative – is the French horn.  I always liked the shape of it.  It's so intricate and elegant.  Admittedly, however, I never really noticed its sound.  Until last night.   

Ah, last night. Composer John William's was right.  The French horn “stirs memories of fearful things, of powerful things, of noble and beautiful things.” The French horn “stirs the blood.” It's an extremely wondrous instrument, and in the hands (and uh, mouth) of Principal Horn William Caballero, it almost is beyond description. He played the incredible Concerto for Horns and Orchestra by famed composer John Williams. Thomas Hong, the PSO Assistant Conductor was right. Said during the pre-concert talk, Hong warned the audience that while there doesn't seem to be much “finger movement” to play the piece, there is a whole lot of range. I can concur with that. There was a TON of it! Like I said, it was almost unbelievable how good the Concerto was without engaging in all sorts of hyperbole. Just…trust me. It is a shame that the Concerto has not been recorded. I feel bad for anyone who missed it. Then again, maybe the PSO will take the HUGE OVATION as a HUGE HINT and record it themselves!

Moving on…Six pieces were performed on Friday, all of them from famous American composers. The program opened with Aaron Copland's El Salon Mexico. Now, I don't like Mexican food, I don't like Mexican movies, I was completely prepared not to like Salon Mexico. I settled in my seat and was prepared to begin looping an episode of Friends in my head to pass the time when suddenly… Amazing. Amazing. I enjoyed every single beat and syllable of this number. Approximately eleven minutes long, it NEEDED to last an hour. It was festive and fun and so great I'm smiling as I type this, just remembering the darn piece. 

The second Copland piece, (the last song of the night) was Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo. I won't dwell too much on this piece because, well, frankly, it would be hard to boil down the 17 minute piece without including tons of adjectives that you might not believe. Oh okay, I'll throw out a few: spiraling, giddy, joyous. 

Finally, though I so enjoyed the Horn Concerto and the El Salon Mexico, the real pinnacle of the night for me was the ode to Samuel Barber. Three pieces performed consecutively – Overture to the School for Scandal; Adagio for Strings; and Madea's Meditation and Dance of Vengeance – I need to make a special point of giving a shout out to the Adagio for Strings. DOWNLOAD THIS. Download it immediately. If you like your songs bittersweet, full of longing, full of tragic love, then this song is for you. It began nice and slow, moved steadily along to a full, fantastic swell, then ebbed away, leaving the listener completely satisfied. 

Like I said….the joy of a good sextet.

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